1. Homer Drew hands VU reins over to Bryce
This was the year that Homer Drew finally decided to step away from coaching the Valparaiso men's basketball team and embark on a retirement adventure with wife Janet.
Life had other plans.
Drew announced his retirement as head coach of the Crusaders on May 17, paving the way for son Bryce Drew to take over the program. Drew took a position in the athletics department and was expected to dabble in broadcasting before receiving life-altering news in September.
Drew was diagnosed with prostate cancer on Sept. 9 while Janet was diagnosed with bladder cancer just three days later. Instead of planning vacations and sorting through trip itineraries, the Drew family became immersed in medical dictionaries, learning everything they could about their afflictions. Drew, the patriarch of the family, worried more about Janet's well-being than he did his own health, all the while trying to give advice to his two sons who were following in the family trade.
"I've been so worried about Janet and everything that she is going through that I just try to ignore my situation," Drew told The Times in November. "Janet has been so courageous, and she appreciates all the well wishes and the prayers, just like we all do."
Drew has been a staple in the crowd at every Valparaiso basketball game this season, watching Bryce continue his animated conversations with the officials. Janet watches the games from home and is fighting the cancer through multiple rounds of chemotherapy.
Bryce has incorporated his parents' plight into his coaching, wearing a light blue blazer in support of prostate cancer awareness and a yellow dress shirt for bladder cancer awareness to several games this season.
"There is more than just the game of basketball," Bryce said. "Its a nice distraction when I'm out on the floor and coaching, but my mind definitely comes back to what my parents are going through and how we can all help raise awareness of cancer." !~ Paul Oren
2. LaPorte trial mirrors Penn State
After a two-week trial and more than a year of investigation, former LaPorte assistant volleyball coach Bob Ashcraft was convicted on July 12 of two counts of Class B felony sexual misconduct with a minor, one count of Class C felony sexual misconduct with a minor and Class D felony child seduction. In August, he received a 21-year prison sentence.
During the trial, LaPorte assistant athletic director and head volleyball coach MaryBeth Lebo advised that if she was called to the stand, she would assert her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
In September, Lebo and LaPorte athletic director Ed Gilliland were charged with failing to report, a Class D misdemeanor, and placed on leave.
The LaPorte volleyball team, which was 9-1 before Lebo was placed on leave, finished 22-14.
In November, after allegations of misconduct were levied by a grand jury against former Penn State football defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, former athletic director Tim Curley and former vice president for finance and business Gary Schultz were charged with failure to report an incident of child abuse. !~ Hillary Smith
3. Crown Point wins first-ever boys soccer state title
Nobody gave Crown Point a shot, but the Bulldogs' unprecedented success in October turned the heads of soccer fans all over Indiana.
Entering the postseason with a modest 9-6-2 record, the Bulldogs tore through the postseason on a mission, capturing their first-ever boys soccer state title with a 1-0 win over Columbus North, decided via penalty kicks. Alex Fenn nailed the game-winner that decided it all.
"A lot of people doubted us and didn't think we'd beat Lake Central (in the Merrillville Regional), but we got through that," Fenn said after the game. "We responded, and we're not a team anymore. We're a family."
None of this would have happened without the efforts of goalkeeper Christian Lomeli, who was nearly perfect between the pipes. He even continued Crown Point's postseason hopes by hitting both game-winning penalty kicks in the Warsaw Semistate. !~ Matt Douthett
4. Hat trick
It was a case of all's well that ends well for Tori Bliss.
The Portage thrower recorded her third state shot put title, becoming the first girl to break the 50-foot mark in the finals meet with a toss of 50 feet, 9 inches. Bliss's physical status, let alone her chances to compete, were in doubt during the week after she suffered a sprained ankle during a gym class at school.
She did not place in the discus throw, which she had won the year before, but rebounded to outduel Southridge's Cassie Wertman in the shot.
Bliss became just the second Indiana prep athlete to accumulate four state titles in the thrownig events and only the third to secure three top finishes in the shot.
The LSU recruit, who was also a Times All-Area basketball player and a goalkeeper in soccer, went on to win a second prep national title in the shot put. !~ Jim Peters
5. More Moore
E.C. Central product E'Twaun Moore graduated from Purdue to the Boston Celtics, leaving his mark on the Boilermakers with a career of accomplishments that included everything except a Final Four trip.
The 6-foot-4 guard became only the fifth Purdue player to exceed the 2,000-point mark in scoring with 2,136, leaving him behind only Rick Mount and Joe Berry Carroll on the all-time list. Moore and teammate JaJuan Johnson, who now wears the Celtics' Kelly green as well, were the top scoring duo in the country in 2010-11. Moore stands as Purdue's top 3-point field goal shooter with 243. He also ranks sixth in steals (164), 15th in blocked shots (59) and 20th in rebounds (610).
Purdue's national title hopes were seemingly derailed when Robbie Hummel was lost to a knee injury in the preseason. The Boilermakers won 26 games and finished second in the Big Ten, but were upset by Virginia Commonwealth in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Moore was taken with the 25th pick of the second round by the Celtics and played briefly in Italy before the NBA labor dispute was settled. !~ Jim Peters
6. Grassel charts a new course
Kelly Grassel never felt like she was out of the running for medalist honors at the IHSAA state golf finals, and that attitude paid off handsomely for the Chesterton junior.
Grassel's two-round 148 bested first-round leader Brooke Beegle of Hamilton Southeastern by a stroke and gave Northwest Indiana its first champion. Grassel, who finished third as a sophomore, entered the final round two strokes off the lead.
"I knew I definitely had a shot," she said. "A two-shot deficit in 36-hole stroke play is not much at all. I just kept a positive mindset. ... It just feels amazing."
Grassel also helped the team make program history with a sixth-place finish (675).
"She just played her usual excellent golf," coach Dale Hewitt said of Grassel. "It was a pleasant reality. I really wouldn't call it a surprise." !~ Jim Hunsley
7. End of an era
After 40 years as a football coach, 39 of them at Valparaiso, Mark Hoffman retired.
The captain of the Viking ship for the last 35 years, Hoffman posted a record of 237-153 at Valpo.
Hoffman started his coaching career as an assistant at Valpo, returning there to succeed Tom Stokes in 1977 after one season at Connersvlle.
Under Hoffman, the Vikings won eight sectional, five regional and two semistate titles, reaching the 5A final in 1985 and 2001. His teams also garnered six Duneland Athletic Conference championships.
Hoffman, who remains as the school's athletic director, will be succeeded by Dave Coyle. !~ Jim Peters
8. Still the ones
The top step on the wrestling awards stand has become a familiar destination for Jason Tsirtsis, Eric Roach and Kyle Ayersman.
The region trio returned there at the individual state finals, Tsirtsis securing his third championship, while Roach, his Crown Point teammate, and Lake Central's Ayersman each earning their second.
Tsirtsis handled Terre Haute South's Phelan Montgomery 15-5 in the 140-pound final, becoming the 32nd individual in state history with three or more titles. He finished 43-0 and stands 129-2 on his career.
Roach defended his 145 title, topping Jeffersonville's Renaldo Weekley 3-1. Like Tsirtsis, Roach went 43-0 for the season.
At 119, Ayersman (52-0) needed overtime to outlast New Castle's Brenden Campbell 10-8, scoring late to tie the match, then notching a decisive takedown in the seventh minute. Ayersman was the 112 champ in 2010. !~ Jim Peters
9. More of the same
A change in venue didn't mean a change at the top in Indiana prep gymnastics.
Ball State hosted the state finals for the first time, and the preeminent program in the state continued its run of dominance as Valparaiso claimed its record fourth consecutive title.
The top-ranked Vikings edged No. 2 Fort Wayne Dwenger, 112.725-112.025, to capture its ninth championship, improving on its own state mark in that category.
Steffanie Long captured the all-around crown with a 38.325, marking the 10th time a Viking took individual honors, also a state record. Long won the vault (9.675) and floor exercise (9.825), in addition to earning a medal on uneven bars (fifth, 9.475). Morgan Algozine took the top spot on bars (9.675) and was second to Long on floor (9.725) and vault (9.65). She placed third all-around (37.95). !~ Jim Peters
10. Bishop Noll just misses state title
Bishop Noll's boys basketball team came within inches of capping off a perfect season with a Class 2A state title. However, Ronnye Beamon's five-footer bounced off the rim in the final seconds, giving Park Tudor the 43-42 victory.
"I'm gonna shoot that shot another 5,000 more times. I thought it was good. It was a layup. I should've made it," Beamon told The Times. "I always go down the middle and shoot shots like that.
"I made three or four today. I should've made that one."
The loss shouldn't overshadow a great season, one in which Noll won the first 26 games of the campaign. Leading scorer Adonis Filer committed to Clemson. !~ Jim Hunsley